Join the Club: Can You Sea PTV?

Can You Sea PTV?

From airwaves to ocean waves, it’s smooth sailing for fans of public broadcasting shows.

By Clark Norton

Martha Danker, a self-confessed “public broadcasting groupie” from Everett, Washington, had an unusual item on her bucket list. She wanted to meet Gwen Ifill, moderator of the long-running PBS series “Washington Week.”

“We’d been watching Gwen Ifill on public TV for 15 years and Martha always said that before she died she wanted to meet her,” explains her husband, Hans. So when they got a flyer from their local PBS station advertising a 2008 cruise featuring Ifill and other public broadcasting personalities, they were highly intrigued, but not completely sold.

“We’re not really cruise people,” Hans Danker says. “And our son’s wedding was coming up, which was taking a lot of Martha’s time. So I sent an email to the organizer saying that the only thing that could get us to go was a personal invitation from Gwen Ifill.” Soon after, Hans gave Martha a treasured Valentine’s Day gift: a note from Ifill. “After 38 years of marriage, this was a highlight,” Martha says.

Soon they were off to the Bahamas and Bermuda aboard a Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ ship where “we found ourselves in the lounge sipping wine and talking with Gwen Ifill and others from PBS,” Martha recounts. “When I realized we were the only non-PBS people in the group, I had to pinch myself. They’re all so professional, funny, and nice, and they all seemed to really like each other.”

This was exactly the kind of reaction — and interaction — that Palm Springs–based marketing consultant Kevin Corcoran had hoped for when he conceived the public broadcasting cruises, which he called PTV at Sea, back in 2003. “PBS and NPR had been consulting clients of mine for several years, and I was looking for a way to use travel to connect viewers and listeners with the on-air talent,” Corcoran says. “The idea was to help build loyalty among potential station members and donors.” So he took the PTV at Sea concept to Regent, whose passengers share a similar interest in world events and the arts with the public broadcasting audience, and Regent gave it the go-ahead as part of its series of information-oriented “Discovery and Exploration” programs.

Under the banner of his newly created company, Artful Travelers, Corcoran launched the first PTV at Sea voyage to the Mediterranean in 2004. Since then there have been 10 more, with additional cruises planned for later in 2012 and 2013, including a Far East itinerary. (One cruise will be all NPR-themed.) Other destinations have included Alaska, South America, Iceland, the Middle East, and, most recently, Australia and New Zealand. With the luxury cruises lasting anywhere from 10 days to three weeks, the public broadcasting personalities have often come aboard for only part of the time. But now they want to stay the whole trip, Corcoran says with a laugh. “I’m everybody’s best friend in New York and Washington.”